Shahar Ilan
Haaretz (Opinion)
March 24, 2008 - 6:03pm

MK Zevulun Orlev's rage was not provoked by last week's pogrom at Jabel Mukkaber, where right-wing protesters attempted to storm the house of the terrorist behind the Mercaz Harav attack; rather, the National Religious Party lawmaker's anger was sparked by a remark made by Balad chairman MK Jamal Zahalka, who claimed Jerusalem was occupied land and that he refused to recognize a law stating otherwise. "If each member of the Knesset decides which laws to recognize on an individual basis, then you will be the first to suffer," he informed Zahalka, "and I will see to that personally."

Truth be told: As a member of a party that supports illegal outposts, Zevulun would be best advised to keep a low profile on the subject of the rule of law. But what really matters in this story is the new habit of threatening Arab Knesset members; the dizzying increase in incitement, curses and insults leveled at them, a spike that has gone almost without protest or the involvement of the Knesset Ethics Committee.

The main reason behind this wave of vitriol is, probably, Yisrael Beiteinu leader MK Avigdor Lieberman's belief that elections are in the offing. After the Mercaz Harav attack, Lieberman told Arab MKs that the current government is full of "weaklings. "Believe you me it's temporary, and you're temporary," he said. "Another government will come and take care of you just like the Kuwaiti government takes care of things." Kuwait's government, according to Lieberman, plans to expel all the participants in a memorial for slain Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah.

Of course, the National Union Party could not afford to trail behind, so its leader MK Effie Eitam made this promise to Arab MKs the day after a protest in the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm against Israel Defense Force activities. "A day will come when we will drive you out of this house [the Knesset] and from the national home of the Jewish people," he said. Usage of words like "fifth column," "enemies" and "traitors" has become an inseparable part of Knesset routine.

Meanwhile, right-wing MKs are pushing a number of bills aimed at making the Knesset off-limits to Arab lawmakers. Orlev and Yisrael Beiteinu's Esterina Tartman have introduced two separate bills that would disqualify people who visited enemy states from being an MK. Arab lawmakers consider visits to Arab states an inseparable part of their job. Hadash chairman MK Mohammed Barakeh said: "If we are given a choice of being faithful to our people or being in the Knesset, then I bid the Knesset farewell. I don't want it." Zahalka said: "At the current rate of legislation, the Knesset will be Arab-free."

Yet other bills introduced by Orlev and David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu aim to force all MKs to pledge their allegiance to the State of Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state." Rotem, who has gathered signatures from 22 MKs to support his bill, including a few from Kadima and the Pensioners' Party, also suggests that MKs vow to support Israeli symbols and values. Israel, says Barakeh, uses its Arab Knesset members as a mask for its democracy. If the bill for pledging allegiance passes, "the mask will fall and the real face [of Israeli democracy] will be revealed. You will only have Zionist Arabs [in the Knesset]."

These bills by Orlev, Tartman and Rotem represent an intolerable notion that some MKs are more equal than others; that some are more acceptable than others, and that those who are worth less need to be cast out. Behind it is a completely misconceived view that Orlev and Lieberman are more entitled to be Knesset members than Zahalka or Barakeh.

To put it into perspective, calls for expulsion or a population transfer are heard on a weekly basis in this Knesset, and nobody tries to remove those who utter them from the parliament. A Knesset that is so adamant in upholding the right's freedom of speech can also house MKs who visit enemy states, and who believe Israel is carrying out war crimes in Gaza just as grave as the Mercaz Harav attack.

Let there be no doubt, Barakeh is right. Israeli democracy benefits from including representatives of the Arab public. Those who seek to cast them out will engender a process which, in a short period of time, could lead to the formation of an Israeli Arab parliament, calling for autonomy or an uprising in Israel. Understandably, Lieberman and his followers in Yisrael Beiteinu are not averse to this: Demand for their politics will only grow as the situation worsens. But the rest of the Knesset - including the National Union Party - should and must be made to stop this process of self-mutilation.


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